Empty pockets? These engineers are targeting students with payment and discounts app KhaaliJeb

KhaaliJeb is a payment, banking, and discounts app for students and youth. The UPI-based app lets users send and receive money, recharge, and pay merchants.
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Heartbreak is said to be a great teacher and motivator. This doesn’t hold true only in books and the movies; it’s also the story of Prakash Kumar

Prakash, now 27, was in the final year of his engineering at IIIT-Allahabad in 2015, when heartbreak led him down an unfamiliar road. He wasn’t able to focus on anything, and had no desire to find a job. He decided to take some time off, and went to his hometown, Patna.

The break led him to start KhaaliJeb, a payment, banking and discounts app for students and youth.

Based on BHIM UPI, the payment app lets users send and receive money, manage recharges, and pay merchants via either their UPI ID or the QR code - directly from their bank accounts. 

OlaCabs had launched recently in Patna. I booked an Ola from the railway station to my home. I reached home and the money was deducted from Ola Money. The entire payment experience was so smooth and seamless, it made me ask: why this can’t be everywhere? It seemed more fascinating because I was completely ignorant of the digital payment developments around the world during that time,” Prakash says. 

But the problem got him thinking. He began researching the different payment systems around the world and thought there was a need to build something similar that focused on the student community. 

Back in college, he roped in his friends and classmates, Aman Verma, Sudhananshu Gaur, and Wilson Birua, as co-founders. They started working on KhaaliJebin January 2015 and registered the bootstrapped startup in March 2016.

The KhaaliJeb team

Starting up after college

“As novices, just out of college, we failed at many things and committed a lot of mistakes. But, we made pivots and the idea kept evolving. We launched the app on Play Store in October 2018,” says Prakash. 

Operations were initially started in Allahabad, but the co-founders soon shifted to Bengaluru, as it was easier to gain access to talent and market. 

Prakash explains that the payment space is exceptionally competitive. Many payments platforms have humongous amount of capital to spend on customer acquisition and marketing. 

“The challenges they pose are immense for a new player. Trust is an important factor for customers when it comes to payment apps. Google, Paytm, PhonePe, and others score over an unknown name like us because of their brand image and the years of innovative hard work. It’s immensely difficult to make even a slight name in presence of such tech and payments giants. 

“Some of the challenges we faced were finding product-market fit, coming up with solid go-to-market strategies, building trust amongst consumers, acquiring new customers, scaling up, hiring, bootstrapping, raising funds etc.,” Prakash says. 

The workings of the app 

The KhaaliJeb app works as a a full-fledged UPI PSP app and is powered by Kotak Mahindra Bank. The target segment the app is looking at is students and youths of age 15-29 years.

After signing up, all you need is a UPI ID or a mobile number to transfer money from your bank account to someone else’s bank account, be it friends or merchants. The app does away with the need to share account numbers, IFSC, and other details. Users can also request money directly in their bank account from friends and family by initiating a collect request

One of KhaaliJeb’s main focus areas is its membership-based discount programme that allows users to avail exclusive benefits from brands and merchants across categories.

“It is live pan-India with a few youth-centric brands offering exclusive discounts to young Indians below 29. We are adding new brands every other day. We have on-boarded 350+ restaurants and salons in Bengaluru, who are offering exclusive discounts on KhaaliJeb,” Prakash says.

Aman says anyone below 29 years needs to register for the Discount Programme Membership by uploading their ID. “The verification happens within minutes. It’s a one-time process.”

Focus on students 

The payment startup has launched a B2B product, Verify by KhaaliJeb, which helps brands identify student customers and run discount campaigns for them. “It is API/SDK-based and can be integrated easily, within minutes, in a brand’s app or website,” Aman says. 

He adds that the team is currently offering a one-month free membership on referring a friend to KhaaliJeb.

With the next update, youth can purchase the three-month Discount Program Membership for Rs 49.   Members will receive an offer code and they can follow the outlined steps to enjoy the benefits. 

Brands offering exclusive benefits to Young Indians include Gaana, Storytel, Cult.Fit, Testbook, etc. 

The market and model 

KhaaliJeb claims to have a user base of 37,000 students, and transactions over Rs 1.4 lakh. 

Sudhanshu says they make money through commissions on transactions, redeemed coupons, discount program membership fee, listing fee from merchants and brands, sponsored ads and banners for brands and merchants, and by charging brands for Student Verification APIs. 

“Brands and merchants provides us 4-12 percent on commission sales generated through us. For Student Verification API, we charge brands a setup fee and small flat fee per ID verification. We are at present offering free three-month Student Verification Services to early-stage startups,” Sudhanshu says. 

The payments space in India is fast growing.

A PwC report states that the country will contribute to close to 2.2 percent of the world’s digital payments by 2023. Several innovations like Bharat QR, mobile wallets, and UPI have ensured that the masses look closely at digital payments. 

The space is dominated by biggies like Paytm, PhonePe, Google Pay, and even WhatsApp. However, KhaaliJeb has chosen to focus on students and has a discounting model, which it believes is the “differentiator”. 

Future plans 

The team is looking at 3 lakh+ downloads and 2.8 lakh+ signups, close to Rs 35,000 in transactions per day, and achieving a value of Rs 3.5 to Rs 4 crore in transaction value by the end of next year. 

It also aims to open over 10,000 digital savings accounts, onboard over 30+ brands for the Student Verification API product, and onboard 300+ brands for the discount programme. 

“Our immediate goal is to raise seed funding to expand the team and build new products. In the next six to eight months, we plan to introduce the following: a track, manage, and split expenses feature; a digital savings bank account; and a micro-savings product – all targeted at youth,” Wilson says. 

Edited by Teja Lele